The world is a big network. Pandemic, the Internet and institutions

Revista de Filosofie Aplicata 3 (Supplementary Issue):136-161 (2020)
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Abstract
2020 is the year of the first pandemic lived through the Internet. More than half of the world population is now online and because of self-isolation, our moral and social lives unfold almost exclusively online. Two pressing questions arise in this context: how much can we rely on the Internet, as a set of technologies, and how much should we trust online platforms and applications? In order to answer these two questions, I develop an argument based on two fundamental assumptions: the development stage of today’s Internet is a contingent and not a necessary one and technologies are never neutral. My argument is that today’s pandemic produced an acceleration of the change which started almost 30 years ago, one of online migration, datafication and algorithmization of day to day life, a change in which digital technologies take on the classic role of institutions, both formal and informal. My thesis is a descriptive one, although it has some normative implications: this take over is not just a translation, but a modification or mutation which demands a creative collective answer, although users don’t have direct power over it. When they play the role of institutions, these technologies are surrogates or simulacra. I offer the paradigmatic case of online education, an experiment we were forced into because of the pandemic, in order to show that the institutional matrix of education cannot be reproduced online, due to the limitations of the medium and of the applications, especially those concerning physical presence. In the end I will critically address the question of the role played by Artificial Intelligence in the pandemic, and then I will show that the open source ethics was more useful in approaching scientifically and technologically the problems generated by the epidemic.
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